Family wants answers in Down syndrome son's death

February 19, 2013 - 4:29 PM

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — A lawyer for the family of a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome who died while being escorted from a movie theater by security guards says the grieving family is looking for answers after the death was ruled a homicide.

Robert Ethan Saylor died Jan. 12 after guards tried to remove him from a Maryland movie theater where he had finished watching a movie and was refusing to leave. The Sheriff's Office previously said Saylor cursed and resisted arrest and was handcuffed as he was led out. Before leaving the theater Saylor began having what the Sheriff's Office said was a medical emergency. Authorities say the handcuffs were taken off and Saylor was taken to a hospital, where he died.

Officials announced Friday that the state medical examiner's office determined that Saylor died from asphyxia and his death was ruled a homicide.

Joseph B. Espo, a Baltimore attorney representing the family, said Tuesday that sheriff's officials met with the family for about an hour Friday. He said the family is still in shock, the man's death "beyond their imagination."

"I think what they most want to see out of the investigation is a clear account of what happened and why it happened," he said.

The man's mother, Patti Saylor, told television station WJLA-TV that her son went to see the movie "Zero Dark Thirty" with a health aide. The family's lawyer said Tuesday that the aide had gone to get the car, something she was allowed to do, when events unfolded. Patti Saylor said her son had no preexisting medical conditions and "just loved unconditionally," she said in a segment that aired in January.

"He would not have been doing anything threatening to anybody," she said.

Saylor's obituary in The Frederick News-Post said he loved his cat and music, particularly Reggae. He also liked learning about police and security agencies, his obituary said.

On Monday, the three guards who were involved Jan. 12 — all of them employees of the Sheriff's Office who were working second jobs as security guards — were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Espo, the family's lawyer, said both he and the family were concerned that the Sheriff's Department has been conducting the investigation into a matter involving its own deputies.

"We just think it would have been preferable to have an outside agency take a look," he said.

Spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Bailey said Monday that deputies who work with the public received training last year on interacting with people with mental health issues. The training by the county's health department did not specifically cover Down syndrome, however.

Down syndrome is a genetic, chromosomal disorder first reported by medical authorities in 1866.

Bailey says the results of the investigation will be forwarded this week to the State's Attorney's Office, which will then decide how to proceed.

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Gresko reported from Washington.

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Follow Jessica Gresko at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko